Yesterday, I was watching a video of a Bible study that our church leadership did a few years ago as we met and planned the upcoming year for us at that time. It was an amazing day. As a leadership team, we hiked about 18-20 miles, visiting villages, sharing the Gospel, doing Bible study, and planning. It was a great day of fellowship and brotherhood. We even found time to take a nap beside a lake under some shade trees during the hottest part of the day. All the memories came flooding back as I watched the Bible study session. I wanted to write an article with the teachings from Acts 20, given to us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, through the Apostle Paul. I linked to the verses, or, you can open your own Bible and read the account, starting in verse 15 and going through the end of the chapter. As we studied the passage, we looked at what we learned about Paul and the commands Paul gave to the Ephesian elders. From these two aspects, we have much to learn about Biblical leadership.
I. Insights about Paul
Paul was in a hurry to make it back to Jerusalem before the Passover began. I am sure he saw it as an opportunity to share the Gospel with fellow Jews from all over the known world. He wanted to take full advantage of the preset holidays. This is a good evangelism tactic. Every culture has special, annual holidays that people celebrate, usually not really even knowing why they celebrate, other than it being a tradition that they learned from their parents and grandparents. I recently taught several lessons on Saint Valentine and Saint Patrick to my volunteer Sunday School teachers as well as the 5th-6th grade Sunday School class because everyone was so excited about Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s day, yet, when I asked them what we were celebrating and why, most of them had no clue. I was able to share the reason and meaning behind the celebrations and point back to the Gospel, the origin of these two major holidays in our own culture. Having traveled to many parts of this world, I have seen the same phenomenon, the fact that people love to celebrate but do not really know the reason for celebration. I am so glad that I have been taught by my mentors to profit from people’s holidays in order to evangelize. Paul understood that and took full advantage. While on the way, Paul realized the importance of relationships and teaching people to stand firm in God’s Word. He realized that this would be the last time he would be able to see the Ephesian elders face to face in this life so, he paused his journey and called the elders to him to continue the teaching that he started when he first made disciples and planted the church in Ephesus. He has a great relationship with those people, especially the elders because when he called them, they did not hesitate to come. This is a sign of Paul’s leadership and the maturity of the believers in Ephesus. What about you, dear leader, are you building these kinds of relationships with your disciples? Do they come when you call and delegate assignments to them or do they have a thousand and one excuses? The Ephesian elders could have come up with excuses, they were the leaders of the church(es) in Ephesus and if you have been in leadership more than 5 minutes, you know that time is precious and it gets really difficult to get away. If you are a leader, that means that you should have a mentor in your own life. How do you respond when your mentor calls you to action? Do you excuse yourself with the business of ministry and life or do you answer right away?
As Paul continues teaching the Ephesian elders, he reminds them of his own example while he was among them. Even though he was a great leader, he was humble in all that he did. He served them out of love yet he was constantly persecuted for his actions. That persecution did not stop him or the Gospel from spreading. He wants to remind the elders that they should follow his example in serving out of love, with humility, and pressing on, especially when persecution and obstacles arise. As a leader, are you humble? What motivates you to lead? Is it a humble desire to serve and see lives transformed, or, do you like the position, power, and prestige that comes along with leadership? Are you teaching your disciples to be humble and to serve others? Are you transparent with your disciples or, do you have a ministry life and a private life that you do not allow others to see or know about? Paul spent time, day and night, with his disciples. They knew who he was because they saw him in every aspect of his life. There was not ministry life and private life. That is our Western mentality of compartmentalizing everything. It is foreign to the Oriental mindset and, ultimately, foreign to God’s ways. That is why we say things like, “what he or she does in his or her private life, is his or her own business, we are interested in the public sphere”. There is a Greek word for expressions like that and it is “hogwash”.
Paul sets a model for leadership in the way that he goes about working with others. He teaches them constantly. He teaches them the Word of God because the key to success in Biblical leadership is to connect people face to face with God, in the Word, and not make them dependent upon me, the leader. Paul understood the power of the Word and he worked according to that power. He taught people the Word of God, the whole counsel of God’s Word and not just bits and pieces of “theology”. He taught publicly in the synagogues and churches, as well as privately in people’s homes. As you have heard it said, the three keys to French cooking are “butter, butter, and more butter”, the same is true in leadership. The three keys to successful leadership are, “teaching, teaching, and more teaching” because the more sound your doctrine (teaching) is, the better grounded your faith is, and the good works will flow out of that. This is what the most successful missionary who ever lived (apart from Christ, Himself) did throughout his entire ministry. That is what he learned from Jesus. The Master spent the majority of His time in the ministry teaching. As a leader, what do you spend the majority of your time doing? Is it with people, teaching them to connect with God in the Word and showing them how to hear from God through Bible study? What about ministering, are you teaching your disciples how to minister the Word of God to others? Paul did both. Jesus did both. Are you following their examples? Let’s take a look at the commands that Paul gives to the Ephesian elders.
II. Commands and Warnings given
As a leader who trains other leaders, we must realize that teaching is a must because, the flock is always going to be under attack on two fronts, from outside the flock and, more dangerous, from within the flock. Not all leaders are leaders because they have a genuine desire to serve. Many want to become leaders for the position, power, and prestige that comes along with the title. Paul uses his own example in contrast to the wolves who will come from the outside and from within to attain position in order to have people follow them. They do it for monetary purposes. Paul was not motivated by money, wealth, or possessions. He did not covet the gold and silver of others. In fact, while among the Ephesians, he did not receive money from them for his services. He could have been paid for his services but he chose to work with his own hands, along with the ministry that he performed day and night so that he could set an example. Another reason that some want the position of leadership is because they are lazy and do not want to work hard. They want to have the title to be able to be served by others. Jesus, the King of kings, did not come to be served but to served. He was Paul’s primary example and He should be all leaders’ example. Unfortunately, over the years, I have met many, many lazy people who are in the ministry. They want to put forth minimal effort in order to keep the wheels turning and give the appearance of work being done. We can easily go through the motions and keep the ball rolling, making it look like we are working but not really doing much or accomplishing much. This is a terrible reason to be in leadership but, I have seen it too many times. Paul saw it during his lifetime and he warned the Ephesian elders of this problem. It is a result of our sin nature. In Thessaloniki, this was a major problem, people acting like busybodies yet never actually doing anything or accomplishing anything. Paul warns of this and as leaders, we need to examine our motives for leadership. In order to keep these bad leaders from leading people from the flock astray, the Ephesian elders needed to teach sound doctrine constantly, day and night, both publicly and privately. As leaders in the church today, how often do we teach the flock? In an old school church, 3 times a week is the norm. In many of our modern churches, once a week is the norm. If the church is in between modern and old school, we teach twice a week. How many leaders in our churches today teach both publicly and privately? How many leaders open their homes up to the flock? How many have never set foot in a church members home? How many of us compartmentalize our public and private lives? Then, we wonder why things are the way that they are and people just do not seem to be as faithful as they used to be. When are we going to stop blaming others and take a long, hard look in the mirror at our own selves and really take notice of what we see?
May the Lord help us understand leadership from a Biblical perspective and may He motivate leaders to follow the model set by Paul, who learned from Christ, Himself!